Read these 10 Trailer Hitches Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Auto Accessories tips and hundreds of other topics.
Hitches come in five classes. The class of each hitch is rated for a specific trailer weight range. Always make sure the weight rating of the hitch is greater than the loaded weight of the trailer that will be towed.
Some trucks and SUVs have hitches installed from the factory. Other may come with towing packages without the hitch. Vehicles over 1,500 pounds may require trailer brakes. When getting ready to tow anything, remember that safety comes first. Hitch capabilities, such as the tow load, draw bar length, height, and the proper wiring all contribute to the safety factors of the hitch. Vehicles that come "unhitched" or lose from any vehicle in tow have the ability to cause injury, death and damage. Rule of thumb when towing: you can never be to careful. Having the right equipment is a must in any situation, and towing is no exception.
Even though about 95% of all trailer hitches are made to fit your car, truck, van, or SUV without any modifying or drilling, the older trucks and vehicles may need some drilling and or modifications. When it's time to install your new trailer hitch, no matter what class hitch you are installing, always remember to use the hardware (nuts, bolts, washers, shims, etc) provided by the hitch manufacturer. This is vital to the hitches strength and proper use on your vehicle.
The hitch manufacturer will list the tools needed in the instructions. The best way to start the install is to get the hitch into place. The holes for bolt placement closest to the rear of the truck are usually the best place to start. Work from side to side per hole -- do not bolt up all bolts on one side first, then move to the other side. Only finger tighten until all bolts, washers, nuts, shims, etc., are in place. Center the hitch and tighten the bolts from side to side. While this is a very basic guide to installing your hitch, always follow the manufacturer's instructions to ensure the hitch is installed safely and properly.
The MAGNUM is designed for only full-size pick-up trucks. To start with, there is no truth to the urban myth that Gross Trailer Weight (GTW) was once measured in units of 300 pounds called WHTs, in honor of William Howard Taft, our heftiest unknown president. Gross Trailer Weight is the weight of the trailer completely loaded. To determine actual GTW, you'll need to put your trailer on a vehicle scale. Tongue weight (TW) is the downward force placed on the hitch ball by the trailer coupler. Usually, TW is 10% to 15% of GTW. You can measure Tongue weight with a bathroom scale. Rest the trailer coupler on the scale and position the scale on a box so that the trailer is at normal towing height. Load the trailer as if it were being towed. Note that the tow vehicle's maximum towing capacity can be found in the owner's manual.
Pendulum Style Controllers are "enabled" by the brake pedal switch and "activated" by a Pendulum Circuit that senses the vehicle's stopping motion and applies appropriate voltage to the trailer's brakes. Once properly adjusted, the trailer will slow down at the same rate as the tow vehicle. This increases braking efficiency and cuts down on break wear and tear. Pendulum style controllers break smoothly and function well in bad braking conditions. On the downside, with few exceptions, inertia-activated controllers are bulky, tend to cost more, and need to be mounted and calibrated on the level.
Once you have selected the correct trailer hitch you are ready to round out your package with towing accessories. Below you'll find a list of basic accessories you must have when towing a vehicle.
1. Trailer ball - mounted on the drawbar or ball mount. The ball size must match the trailer coupler size.
2. Drawbar/Ball mount - Hidden Hitch products have removable ball mounts.
3. Trailer coupler - required on a trailer.
4. Electrical and wiring - all tow vehicles must be properly wired.
5. Brake control - required when towing a trailer with electric brakes.
6. Safety chains - required when towing.
7. Transmission oil coolers: a must for all automatic transmissions.
Once enabled by a brake pedal switch, Solid State controllers apply a gradual voltage to the trailer's brakes by means of a Time Delay Circuit. The nice thing about a Time Delayed controller is that it doesn't cost much, has a low profile, and can be mounted easily on any angle. On the con side, when you are towing with your Hazard flashers on, the Digital Display will flash in unison with the Hazard Flashers. If the Brake Control is set too high, you may feel a little pulsing in the trailer brakes. But not to worry, the Pulse Preventer can rectify this situation by isolating the Brake Control from the flashers.
If your trailer has electric brakes, you are going to need to install an ingenious device known, obviously enough, as an electric trailer brake controller. As the name implies, this unit supplies power from your vehicle to a trailer's electric brakes. Electric brake controllers come in two flavors: Time Delay Activated ("solid state") and Inertia Activated ("pendulum style"). Although the controllers' differ in the way they work, they both do allow you to adjust output or braking power. If your trailer has electric brakes, you are going to need to install an ingenious device known, obviously enough, as an electric trailer brake controller. As the name implies this unit supplies power from your vehicle to a trailer's electric brakes. Electric brake controllers come in two flavors: Time Delay Activated ("solid state") and Inertia Activated ("pendulum style"). Although the controllers' differ in the way they work, they both do allow you to adjust output or braking power.
To get hooked up with the right trailer hitch, you need to know Gross Trailer Weight (GTW) and Vehicle Towing Capacity. Take a look at the trailer weight guide chart below to find your information. Class I Hidden Hitch is for vehicles towing 2,000 lbs. GTW or less, 200 lbs.TW. In some cases, Class I Hidden Hitch may tow up to 2,500 lbs. GTW, 250 lbs. TW. A typical Class I application is used for towing small utility trailers. Passenger vehicles are most suited for Class I applications. Class II Hidden Hitch is for vehicles towing 3,500 lbs. GTW, 300 lbs.TW. A typical Class II application covers towing large utility trailers, boats or campers. Sport utility vehicles, minivans, large passenger cars, and mid-size pick-up trucks can use Class II Hidden Hitches Class III & IV Hidden Hitch Receivers can handle up to 6,000 lbs. GTW or less, 600 lbs TW. The towing capacity may be increased to a maximum of 10,000 lbs. GTW, 1,000 lbs. TW using a weight distribution system. The GTW and TW must conform to the vehicles maximum towing capacity. Check your vehicle's owner's manual. All pick-up trucks, full size vans and sport utility vehicles may use a Class III receiver. Class V Hidden Hitch MAGNUM Receivers have the towing capacity of 8,000 GTW, 1,200 TW;14,000 lbs.GTW, 1,700 lbs. TW with weight distribution.
Hooking your vehicle up to a trailer (or vice versa) gives the term “getting hitched” a fresh new meaning. Unlike marriage, however, you can do it on your own, though it can be easier if you have a helpmate.
Here's what you do:
1. Back your tow vehicle as close as possible to the trailer rather than pull the trailer to your car or truck. It's easier and safer.
2. Release the coupler locking device.
3. Lift up the front end of the trailer coupler directly over the hitch ball; then lower it until the coupler is seated on the hitch ball completely.
4. Look under the coupling to make sure the ball clamp is below the ball, not riding on top of it.
5. Latch the coupler to the hitch ball. Be sure it's locked in place by lifting up the trailer tongue. If the coupler comes loose from the ball, unlatch it and go back to Step 3.
6. Make sure your jack is up all the way.
7. For a weight-distributing hitch with spring bars, follow the above procedure, then attach the spring bar chain to the trailer and tighten it until your trailer and car are in a normal level position.
8. For trailers with a surge brake, breakaway cable, or chain, attach the cable or chain to your tow vehicle, leaving enough slack to allow tight turns.
9. Attach the safety chains and criss-cross them under the ball mount so that they do not hang down or drag.
10. Connect the trailer wiring harness to the lighting system of your tow vehicle and check its operation.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|